Gardening at School: How We Made It Work

by Ingrid Cowan Hass
IMG_6547A few years ago parents of the PTA at our neighborhood elementary school started talking about adding some landscaping to the school grounds. The principal liked the idea of a pollinator garden in front of the school. There was also an abandoned courtyard garden that had been started with a grant by a teacher who was no longer at the school. We wondered if that could be revived.

The project began with just a few parents weeding over a period of time. Then, last spring, we created two garden beds out of the mound of grass and weeds surrounding the flagpoles in front of the school. We communicated with the school building manager about our plans. His schedule didn’t allow him to do more than mow the grass, so he was thrilled to have the extra help. We met with the principal, talked about the placement, and got approval to put up cedar edging to hold the earth and mulch. I weeded the existing raised beds in the courtyard and collaborated with a teacher about planting some lettuce and kale with her classes. We uncovered strawberries that we replanted with new compost. With the extra care, the strawberries produced a bumper crop!

IMG_8235I started taking a small bucket and gloves to school every day and weeding during drop-off and pick-up for 10 minutes. This generated conversation, awareness, and new volunteers among the other parents. We asked for parents to bring in flowering perennials from their gardens to plant in the new bed. Some dads brought mulch in their trucks. We visited a few other schools that had gardens to learn about what they were doing.

I approached the City of Greenbelt, and they helped us plan a volunteer day in the fall. IMG_4713
About 100 people showed up. The city brought in wheelbarrows, tools, extra flowers, and mulch. People donated bulbs. The local garden club came. Two girl scout troops were invited. High School students earned community service points. We invited the City Council and some of them showed up. Another flower bed was created in front of the school. Later, a second grade class helped plant more bulbs with the help of some volunteers. The flowers are glorious in front of the school this year!

IMG_7259cropThis year we got a grant to bring in a visual artist to lead the 3rd grade students with sketch journals for a bean-growing project in the courtyard. Students started seedlings indoors, sketching their growth over a period of weeks. Parent volunteers helped gather the supplies and later were there to assist when the children planted their beans in the courtyard.

 

Tips for Your Own School Garden:

  • Garden projects must be led by parents or community members. Don’t rely on teachers. With their very busy schedules, they don’t have time to create and prepare garden beds or maintain existing gardens. Once you begin the project, find the teachers that may be interested in integrating gardening into their lessons. They will still need a volunteer to coordinate dates and help.
  • Someone needs to know about gardening, but not everyone. Willing volunteers can easily be trained to help.
  • Start small. For us, weeding was an important first step.
  • Try to plant flowers that bloom during the school year.
  • Communication with the school grounds personnel is important, so that things don’t get mowed down.
  • Maintenance is the biggest challenge.  Establish a “beautification day” that is an annual event.
  • Determine your water source, and figure out who will water in the summer months, when school is not in session. We have a sign-up sheet for certain weeks in the summer. Ask gardening neighbors who live nearby.
  • Find people to weed throughout the seasons. Certain people can be assigned specific areas. If your school has a “green team” then certain students could be trained about weeding.
  • Look for outside resources in the form of grant money, in-kind donations, or volunteer service. Your city government may be willing to help with the project.

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